The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking action against two egg producers who have allegedly misled consumers by using the term “free range”.
The consumer watchdog has filed separate proceedings in the Federal Court against Snowdale Holdings in Western Australia, and Pirovic in New South Wales.
The ACCC alleges both companies used words and images that made false, misleading and deceptive statements on their egg cartons and websites that the eggs were free range.
It says the hens laying the eggs were not able to move about freely because of various factors in their barns, including stocking density.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims says the commission is not judging the companies’ farming practices.
“The ACCC’s concern is simply to ensure that the labelling of eggs accurately reflect the particular farming practices of the producer and the expectations of a consumer making purchasing choices based on those representations,” he said.
Mr Sims says claims such as free range and organic are all powerful tools for businesses.
“Misleading consumers who may pay a premium to purchase such products damages the market and is unfair to competitors,” he said.
Snowdale and Pirovic are among the largest egg producers in WA and NSW.
The NSW Greens say the court action underlines the need for a national, legally-enforceable definition of free range.
Greens MP John Kaye says the consumer watchdog has one hand tied behind its back when it comes to taking such action.
“The allegations the ACCC are pursuing represent the worst case scenarios,” he said.
“There are plenty of other large industrial producers who are using free range purely as a marketing tool.
“Those chickens are not living anything like the life that the people who pay more for their eggs would expect.”
He has called for the issue to be raised at the next COAG meeting.